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   Chapter 32 MANASSAS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 6947

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Femininely enough, our little borrowed book, Miranda's and Victorine's compilation of letters from the front, gives no more than a few lines to the first great battle of the war.

Fred Greenleaf was one of its wounded prisoners. Hilary cared for him and sought his exchange; but owing to some invisible wire-pulling by Flora Valcour, done while with equal privacy she showed the captive much graciousness, he was still in the Parish Prison, New Orleans, in February, '62, when the book was about to be made, though recovered of wounds and prison ills and twice or thrice out on his parole, after dusk and in civilian's dress, at Callender House.

The Callenders had heard the combat's proud story often, of course, not only from battery lads bringing home dead comrades, or coming to get well of their own hurts, or never to get well of them, but also from gold-sleeved, gray-breasted new suitors of Anna (over-staying their furloughs), whom she kept from tenderer themes by sprightly queries that never tired and constantly brought forth what seemed totally unsought mentions of the battery. And she had gathered the tale from Greenleaf as well. Constance, to scandalized intimates, marvelled at her sister's tolerance of his outrageous version; but Miranda remembered how easy it is to bear with patience (on any matter but one) a rejected lover who has remained faithful, and Flora, to grandma, smiled contentedly.

Anna's own private version (sum of all), though never written even in her diary, was illustrated, mind-pictured. Into her reveries had gradually come a tableau of the great field. Inaccurate it may have been, incomplete, even grotesquely unfair; but to her it was at least clear. Here--through the middle of her blue-skied, pensive contemplation, so to speak--flowed Bull Run. High above it, circling in eagle majesty under still, white clouds, the hungry buzzard, vainly as yet, scanned the green acres of meadow and wood merry with the lark, the thrush, the cardinal. Here she discerned the untried gray brigades--atom-small on nature's face, but with Ewell, Early, Longstreet, and other such to lead them--holding the frequent fords, from Union Mills up to Lewis's. Here near Mitchell's, on a lonesome roadside, stood Kincaid's Battery, fated there to stay for hours yet, in hateful idleness and a fierce July sun, watching white smoke-lines of crackling infantry multiply in the landscape or bursting shells make white smoke-rings in the bright air, and to listen helplessly to the boom, hurtle and boom of other artilleries and the far away cheering and counter-cheering of friend and foe. Yonder in the far east glimmered Centerville, its hitherward roads, already in the sabbath sunrise, full of brave bluecoats choking with Virginia dust and throwing away their hot blankets as they came. Here she made out Stone Bridge, guarded by a brigade called Jackson's; here, crossing it east and west, the Warrenton turnpike, and yonder north of them that rise of dust above the trees which meant a flanking Federal column and crept westward as Evans watched it, toward Sudley Springs, ford, mill, and church, where already much blue infantry had stolen round by night from Centerville. Here, leading south from these, she descried the sunken Sudley road, that with a dip and a rise crossed the turnpike and Young's Branch. There eastward of it the branch turned north-east and then southeast between those sloping fields beyond which Evans and Wheat

were presently fighting Burnside; through which Bee, among bursting shells, pressed to their aid against such as Keyes and Sherman, and back over which, after a long, hot struggle, she could see--could hear--the aiders and the aided swept in one torn, depleted tumult, shattered, confounded, and made the more impotent by their own clamor. Here was the many-ravined, tree-dotted, southward rise by which, in concave line, the Northern brigades and batteries, pressing across the bends of the branch, advanced to the famed Henry house plateau--that key of victory where by midday fell all the horrid weight of the battle; where the guns of Ricketts and Griffen for the North and of Walton and Imboden for the South crashed and mowed, and across and across which the opposing infantries volleyed and bled, screamed, groaned, swayed, and drove each other, staggered, panted, rallied, cheered, and fell or fought on among the fallen. Here cried Bee to the dazed crowd, "Look at Jackson's brigade standing like a stone wall." Here Beauregard and Johnson formed their new front of half a dozen states on Alabama's colours, and here a bit later the Creole general's horse was shot under him. Northward here, down the slope and over the branch, rolled the conflict, and there on the opposite rise, among his routed blues, was Greenleaf disabled and taken.

All these, I say, were in Anna's changing picture. Here from the left, out of the sunken road, came Howard, Heintzelman, and their like, and here in the oak wood that lay across it the blue and gray lines spent long terms of agony mangling each other. Here early in that part of the struggle--sent for at last by Beauregard himself, they say--came Kincaid's Battery, whirling, shouting, whip-cracking, sweating, with Hilary well ahead of them and Mandeville at his side, to the ground behind the Henry house when it had been lost and retaken and all but lost again. Here Hilary, spurring on away from his bounding guns to choose them a vantage ground, broke into a horrid mêlée alone and was for a moment made prisoner, but in the next had handed his captors over to fresh graycoats charging; and here, sweeping into action with all the grace and precision of the drill-ground at Camp Callender, came his battery, his and hers! Here rode Bartleson, here Villeneuve, Maxime with the colors, Tracy, Sam Gibbs; and here from the chests sprang Violett, Rareshide, Charlie and their scores of fellows, unlimbered, sighted, blazed, sponged, reloaded, pealed again, sent havoc into the enemy and got havoc from them. Here one and another groaned, and another and another dumbly fell. Here McStea, and St. Ange, Converse, Fusilier, Avendano, Ned Ferry and others limbered up for closer work, galloped, raced, plunged, reared, and stumbled, gained the new ground and made it a worse slaughter-pen than the first, yet held on and blazed, pealed, and smoked on, begrimed and gory. Here was Tracy borne away to field hospital leaving Avendano and McStea groveling in anguish under the wheels, and brave Converse and young Willie Calder, hot-headed Fusilier and dear madcap Jules St. Ange lying near them out of pain forever. Yet here their fellows blazed on and on, black, shattered, decimated, short of horses, one caisson blown up, and finally dragged away to bivouac, proud holders of all their six Callender guns, their silken flag shot-torn but unsoiled and furled only when shells could no longer reach the flying foe.

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